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Smarter Libraries through Technology: The Evolution of the Koha Open Source ILS

Smart Libraries Newsletter [April 2014]

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Libraries today have a variety of choices for automation systems. Smart Libraries Newsletter has provided extensive coverage of integrated library systems, library services platforms, discovery services and other types of automation products. It's interesting and important that both open source and proprietary license models are available in for these products.

The vigorous competition among the vendors of the proprietary products has prompted our coverage of many of their advancements, especially when major new capabilities become available. This newsletter also provides coverage of some of the major open source projects. We have recently reported on major changes at Equinox Software related to its hosting and support services for the Evergreen ILS. The Kuali OLE has been a topic of ongoing interest. This month's issue focuses on Koha, an open source integrated library system that has seen adoption by a steadily increasing number of libraries since its creation in 1999.

The availability of both open source and proprietary options benefits libraries. For many, especially in the developing world, it provides opportunities for advancements in automation that would otherwise exceed their financial resources. A number of projects have been carried out to systematically automate libraries within a region or country using open source software. I am familiar with examples of ambitious projects using Koha as the basis for automating large numbers of public libraries through national programs include Argentina, the Philippines, and Turkey. Public agencies able to allocate personnel for development, technical implementation, training, and related activities but not necessarily interested in paying for licensing of commercial software often see open source as an attractive strategy.

Open source software has also grown to become a significant portion of the automation industry in the United States, primarily through commercial implementation, support, and hosting services. While the percentage of overall installed systems remains relatively small, the number of libraries selecting open source alternatives is more impressive. Especially in the small to mid-sized library sector, open source automation systems has become a significant factor in the migration trends in recent years, and I anticipate that trend to continue. Open source has established a solid track record in consortia, especially when the members are mostly of smaller libraries. Inroads in the larger library arena have been more limited, but there are some examples such as the King County Public Library's implementation of Evergreen. The Oslo Public Library in Norway has announced intention to implement Koha, following a period of additional development. In the academic library sector, some of the partner libraries aim to switch to Kuali OLE this year. The perceived success of these early adopters may have implications for other academic libraries interested in pursuing an open source alternative in the future.

The functionality of open source integrated library systems often compares reasonably well to proprietary systems for some types of libraries. Commercial support offerings have the potential to work well in libraries that do not necessarily have their own programmers or technical personnel. Fee-based support options for open source library automation systems are also available in many areas of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and India.

The idea of open source software resonates with many libraries. The requirement for the source code to be available for study and modification strikes some of the same notes as the movement toward open access content. An open access publishing model allows readers access to materials without payment or affiliation with a library that subscribes.

Open source software and open access content both provide freedom in the access and use, but depend on a similar business model for sustainability. Many different approaches have emerged to manage the investments and costs that ultimately result in the free access to content or software. Open access content generally moves the costs forward in the publishing cycle, where authors or their institutions pay costs or provide the publishing infrastructure. Open source software distributes costs of development and support so that individuals or institutions may use the software without paying licensing fees.

The absence of licensing fees naturally does not mean that a library can implement an open source automation system without cost. Existing hardware and personnel resources can be tapped to lower implementation and operational costs, but most open source software projects involve infrastructure investments, support service fees, or other costs. Whether open source or proprietary software will result in a lower long-term total cost of ownership valuation or which option will deliver the most appropriate functionality will vary depending on the circumstances and requirements of the library. I see open source as one of the viable alternatives available to libraries today, but one that must stand on its merits of functional capabilities and economic value and not on philosophical preferences.

View Citation
Publication Year:2014
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 34 Number 04
Issue:April 2014
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smarter Libraries through Technology
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Products: Koha
Subject: Open source software
Record Number:19402
Last Update:2022-12-05 15:26:02
Date Created:2014-06-05 13:49:34